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Returning to work after maternity leave – My experience.

For me, transitioning back to work after an extended period of time was a daunting task. Shifting my mindset from being a full time mum back to a health professional was a massive challenge. I had been out of the flow of the office for a very long time, and was returning as a different person with new priorities and concerns. 

Hi! My name is Felicity. I have been an Occupational Therapist for the last 15 years. I work in a busy public hospital on the Gold Coast, and have a special interest in hand therapy, orthopaedics, plastics and trauma. Three years ago, I became a mother. My world was turned upside down, in the best way possible. All of a sudden, my days were no longer about the hospital, occupational therapy, patients, colleagues, schedules, meetings. Overnight, my days became totally focused around nappy changes, feeding times, sleep cycles… and coffee. Lots of coffee. 

I’m writing this blog to help make your first few weeks back at work as smooth as possible. Assuming you’ve already got childcare arranged, here are some less obvious details to consider for your back-to-work checklist. The list is a mix of things that worked well for me when returning to work after maternity leave AND things I wish I’d done the first time around.

Keep up to date with Professional Development

It is up to you to maintain your professional development so that your skills and knowledge remain up to date in your area of practice. Yes, you’re elbow deep in nappies and night feeds, but make the time to keep abreast of what’s happening in the real world and in your workplace. Follow pages on social media related to your profession, sign up to blogs, webinars and online courses.  If you’ve taken a year or more off work, chances are, your role would have changed drastically during this time.

Additionally, AHPRA expects practitioners who hold practising registration to meet the requirements of the CPD standard. There is a broad range of options and flexibility available to achieve this standard. See the AHPRA website for more details. 

Meet with your boss

Schedule a meeting with your boss before returning to work. 

Things you might want to cover:

  • Have there been any changes you need to be aware of while you were out? Changes in leadership, a shift in priorities for the department?
  • What are your boss’s top priorities for you when you get back? 
  • Is your boss willing to let you try flexible work arrangements? 
  • Logistical issues like computer access, desk space etc

Practice Run

Pick a day near the end of your leave to test out your new schedule. Run through your new routine and work out the kinks. Maybe you’ll find that you need 20 minutes, not 10, to feed your baby. Or you could discover that getting to the daycare in peak hour traffic takes longer than expected. If you need to shave some time from your morning routine, try setting out your outfit the night before. Try it on to make sure it fits (mine didn’t!). Iron it and check for smeared banana. Time saved in the morning is more sleep for you. Having a practice day will help remove some stress on that first day back in the office. 

Breastfeeding in the workplace

A best practice employer can support employees who are breastfeeding by making sure they have suitable facilities available – examples include a private room for breastfeeding, somewhere where the employee can store a breast pump, and a fridge where they store any breast milk. Employees should also be given appropriate breaks so that they can breastfeed or express. For more information, click this link

Recognise and be proud of what you’re taking back to the workplace with you

A lot of parents lack confidence as they return to work. I spent a lot of time thinking about the many ways in which motherhood was going to make me an even better OT. I had faced several challenges in the time I’d been off work, and as a result I felt stronger, more decisive and certainly more resilient. Once back at work I found myself to be more assertive (I’ve had a lot of practice; “No! You can’t watch any more Peppa Pig”), a master in multi-tasking and much better equipped to deal with situations that might once have stressed or frustrated me.

Practice Self Care

Self-care is vital to a working parent’s success. Remember to put your oxygen mask on first. If you don’t take care of yourself, you may struggle to take care of others or handle your workload. Incorporate acts of self care into your schedule before you go back to work to get into the habit of taking care of yourself. 

When you are back to work, try to include things like taking walks during your workday so you get away from your desk. Pack yourself a nourishing lunch. Eat that lunch outside. Make sure you are comfortable in your work uniform (including shoes). Prepare well on Sunday night to start your work week off on the right foot. Keep a journal and write about what you’re grateful for. Follow a bedtime routine, just like your kids, to help calm your mind and body.

Trust me, it gets easier

Be prepared for a hard first week. I will not sugar-coat this. You will tear up when someone asks “how’s the baby!?” and you will spend a lot of time watching the clock for the moment you get to run home. You may not be very productive that week. Then, week two rolls in. It still hurts to think of being away from your child, but no tears come. More baby steps come in week three. You start to engage a little more at work. You obviously think of your baby all day, but everything starts to feel a little more natural. And when you get home at the end of the day, you will cherish the cuddles, giggles and chaos.

Do's:

  • Reset your expectations. Be gentle with yourself.
  • Be upfront with your boss
  • Make your schedule as predictable as possible and communicate your plans to your colleagues. But understand that adjustments may be needed along the way.
  • Seek out support and encouragement from other parents at work.
  • Practice runs to get you and your child accustomed to the situation.

Dont's:

  • Make the first day you go back to work the first day your child goes to a new caregiver.
  • Be shy about asking for flexibility if it will help you do your job better.
  • Assume that you will be the same professional you were pre-baby. Instead, think about how to utilise your new skill set to help you professionally.

Written by guest blog content contributor, Felicity Andrews.

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